Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2010: Staff Writer Mike Heyliger’s picks

I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had to struggle with a list of my favorite music in a particular year. Actually, I can, so I should clarify: I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much good music to choose from when paring down my list of favorites for the year. Upon looking at my CD collection (yes, I’m one of those guys), I still see another 10 or 20 albums that could make the list if I listen more carefully. But without the benefit of the free time it would take to check those CDs out, here’s a list of the 20 best albums I’ve heard in 2010.

1. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
As much as Kanye’s childish tirades infuriate me, I’ll be damned if his music doesn’t always win me over. Fantasy is amazing from just about every facet: musically, lyrically, thematically. I’ll forgive ‘Ye for a million idiotic public statements if he keeps making music like this.

2. Gil Scott-Heron: I’m New Here
One of two albums in my Top 20 recorded by artists re-emerging after a 14-year absence, I’m New Here is a haunting listen. The ravages of time have wreaked havoc on Scott-Heron’s voice, but much like Bob Dylan’s most recent work, age has given the artist’s voice additional resonance.

3. The Black Keys: Brothers
Sometimes the album that breaks a band through to a mainstream audience is indeed their best work. That’s definitely the case with the Black Keys’ Brothers. Bluesy garage-rock with enough hooks to keep guys like me interested, I feel like this is the album Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney were aiming for with their Danger Mouse-helmed Attack & Release album. As it turned out, they didn’t (really) need Danger Mouse, anyway, just their bad selves and the ghosts of Muscle Schoals, Alabama.

4. The Roots: How I Got Over
Can someone give these guys a medal for the most consistently awesome act not only in hip-hop, but in music period? I feel like the Roots are incapable of making a bad album even if they tried to. Although I suppose if they replaced Black Thought with Jimmy Fallon…

5. Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer
“Fuck You” (or “Forget You,” if you’re easily offended) was a gimmick single, sure. However, even gimmick singles can be genius, and what’s more is that the Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley frontman was able to back the promise of that song up with an incredible album. I wish he rapped more, but when you can outsing just about every artist in contemporary pop and R&B, I guess you can be excused.


Read the rest after the jump...

Crowded House: The Very Very Best of Crowded House


RIYL: The Beatles, The Everly Brothers, Squeeze

Picking songs for a Crowded House compilation is a fool’s errand. The British press was only slightly kidding when they said that Neil Finn pisses genius; the first three albums he made as Crowded House after dissolving his brother Tim’s band Split Enz in 1984 (Tim had left the band earlier that year) are about as perfect as pop records get, and the band’s fourth album, 1994′s Together Alone, is pretty damned good, too. This compilation, the second attempt to condense the band’s best work to a single disc, has an even harder task in that it includes tracks from the band’s fifth album, 2007′s Time on Earth. Five good to great albums, sliced and diced to one disc, and it’s supposed to be the very, very best of the band.

Nope.

Still, The Very Very Best of Crowded House is no misfire either, since it would have been filled with beautiful, haunting melodies and Finn’s trademark lyrical paranoia regardless of which songs had made the cut and which ones had been forsaken. But at this stage in the game, this is a two-disc affair no matter how you slice it, and as luck would have it, Capitol has released a two-disc version of this set as well. For newbies, that is the way to go, as the single-disc version of this set is simply missing too many great – and nearly all of the upbeat – moments. The band’s first two albums are reduced to a mere four songs, only one of which came from the criminally underrated Temple of Low Men (1988). Together Alone and 1991′s Woodface, meanwhile, account for over half of the songs here. Perhaps they chose to favor the later material of the Capitol years in order to keep the set more in step with the band’s recent work, but doing so makes for the most dour collection of the Capitol years that one could assemble.

The Very Very Best of Crowded House is a four-star collection of a five-star catalog. Go for the two-disc set instead; it costs more, but with the addition of “Hole in the River,” “World Where You Live,” “Now We’re Getting Somewhere,” “Into Temptation,” “Whispers and Moans” and “I Feel Possessed,” that set opens doors to the band’s work that the single-disc set doesn’t even acknowledge. This is good, but more – and more balance – would have been better. (Capitol 2010)

Crowded House MySpace page
Click to buy The Very Very Best of Crowded House from Amazon
Click to buy The Very Very Best of Crowded House (Two-Disc set) from Amazon

Crowded House: Intriguer


RIYL: Split Enz, Tim Finn, Finn Brothers

Neil Finn titled his first post-Crowded House solo album Try Whistling This, and that may as well have been a manifesto for everything he’s done since. Once a dispenser of instantly memorable hooks, Finn spent his solo years burrowing into an increasingly insular (and ethereally lovely) melodic world, and where albums like One Nil were arguably more meaningful than his earlier work, it often felt like he was engaging in a bit of passive resistance against the pop fame he achieved – and inexplicably lost. Fine, he seemed to be saying. You didn’t buy brilliantly catchy Crowded House records like Woodface and Together Alone? I won’t bother with the mainstream stuff.

Fans who’d been frustrated with Finn’s drift away from stuff they could whistle were doubtless cheered when he unexpectedly decided to reconvene Crowded House in 2007, after a more than ten-year hiatus – but anyone who thought the reunion meant Finn was sitting on another “Don’t Dream It’s Over” must have been crushingly disappointed in their first album back, Time on Earth. For all intents and purposes, it sounded like another Finn solo record – which made sense, given that the sessions started out that way, but the band’s trademark energy was noticeably lacking.

So was Time on Earth just a case of Finn cleaning out the pipes before he got back to business? Yes and no. It’s true that Intriguer sounds like more of a band effort than Time on Earth, but what this album really establishes is how Finn has evolved as a songwriter. He’s always addressed unusual themes – this is a band that recorded a song titled “Pineapple Head” and once fantasized about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s pants falling down in front of the Queen of England — but as the years have worn on, Finn has found the confidence (or maybe just the means) to probe deeper, and with deceptively unrestrained emotion, into the things we worry about in middle age and onward. Family, aging, commitment, the bonds of friendship, the struggle to square one’s dreams with who and where they really are – these are the places Finn’s muse has led him, and as topics for pop songs go, they’re briar patches.

They beg for connections, though, and that’s the crux of the reunited Crowded House – it’s a musical fraternity, and not the kind that wears togas and slips roofies to undergrads. If you can listen past the lack of an obvious hit here (leadoff single “Saturday Sun” is about as straight up as the album gets), you can hear bonds being built; in three-minute increments, you can hear Finn discovering who he is as a husband, a father, a musician, and a friend. (Alternately, you can just let it sort of wash over you; aside from a few forays into spiky dissonance, Intriguer is as gauzily lovely as it is thoroughly mid-tempo.)

Songs like these clearly aren’t for everyone. Finn’s late-period work has a tendency to flit away if you try to get a grip on it, and Intriguer is cut from the same cloth. You need to slow down and let these songs come to you. It might take some effort, but it’s worth the wait. “These are times that come only once in your life,” Finn sings at one point, “Or twice if you’re lucky.” It sounds like an allusion to the band’s history, but he’s speaking for all of us. (Fantasy 2010)

Crowded House MySpace page

Saul Zonana: Phatso


RIYL: The Beatles, Butch Walker, Crowded House

Singer/songwriter/rocker Saul Zonana may sometimes experiment with different ideas, sounds and songwriting nuggets, but regardless, his music is almost always melodic and extremely appealing. Such is the case with Zonana’s latest, Phatso, self-recorded and produced in his hometown of Nashville with a small supporting cast. Zonana has also toured with and hung around the legendary Adrian Belew a lot the last few years, and some of Belew’s eccentric ways have rubbed off on Zonana where his songwriting is concerned. Tracks like “Boogyman,” “Mr. Pulsfuss,” and “Direction” are signature Saul, with the same Beatlesque harmonies and guitar tones, and are worth the price of admission here. But he veers left of center a few times, especially on the title track, which features female old-timey vocals and instrumentation. This one sounds like a radio commercial, but as far as that goes, “Really Expensive Cream” is not a song but a comedic bit that is actually meant to be a commercial. It’s funny, but it’s not something you’ll want to listen to over and over again. And two of the best tracks are the acoustic-driven “About You” and “In the Moment.” The former especially is not the type of song we’ve come to expect from Saul, but a really pleasant, stripped-down surprise. And with Phatso, surprise is the name of the game – from a good game at that. (20/20 Music 2010)

Saul Zonana website

Liam Finn & Eliza Jane: Champagne in Seashells


RIYL: Crowded House, The Beatles, Oasis

Liam Finn, son of Crowded House’s Neil Finn, is back with a five song EP that is somewhat of a follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2008 release, I’ll Be Lightning. And when Paste says that 2008 project “could be an Abbey Road outtake,” quite honestly, where do you go from there? So Finn did the smart thing and teamed up with band mate and fellow Aussie singer/songwriter Eliza Jane Barnes to create something of a diversion. The result is Champagne in Seashells, and it’s not totally what you might expect by pairing a male and female singer/songwriter together. In fact, “Long Way to Go” is more like bouncy hipster fare – you know, the kind of thing you might hear in a clothing store in New York City and think to yourself that you have to find out what that ear candy is you’re listening to. But there is also rainy day brooding as on “Won’t Change My Mind,” and Eliza proves she is every bit worthy of being in Finn’s company when she takes the lead on “On Your Side.”

Liam Finn Eliza Jane

Side project or not, this is a damn good EP and proof that the Finn genes are also, well, damn good. (Yep Roc 2009)

Finn/Jane Website

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